Bailey, Sir Abe, first baronet 1864-1940, South African financier and statesman, was born at Cradock, Cape Colony, 6 November 1864, the only son of Thomas Bailey, of Keighley, Yorkshire, who became a general storekeeper at Queen's Town, Cape Colony, and represented it in the legislative assembly. His mother was Ann Drummond, daughter of Peter McEwan, of Muthill, Crieff, Perthshire. Bailey was sent to England to be educated at the Keighley Trade and Grammar School and at Clewer House, Windsor. Returning to the Cape in 1881 he worked at his father's business until he left for the Barberton gold-fields in the Transvaal, arriving there in July 1886. He began dealing in shares with a capital of £100. Losing it he borrowed £10 from a friend, took out a licence, and setting up as a broker on the Stock Exchange, began to make his way. Leaving Barberton in March 1887, he went to the Rand in order to continue his sharebroking and to become secretary of the Gipsey and Kleinfontein mines. As soon as his fortune warranted it he abandoned broking and the secretaryship and began acquiring and developing properties. In the end his business interests comprised the chairmanship of the fourteen subsidiary companies in the Abe Bailey and London and Rhodesian mining group, a directorship of the Central Mining and Investment Corporation controlling twenty-four subsidiary companies, and several other company directorships. He became one of the largest breeders and owners of race-horses both in England and in South Africa. His most famous horse, Son-in-Law, won the Cesarewitch and the Goodwood Cup, was founder of a line of stayers including Foxlaw, Trimdon, Foxhunter, and Tiberius, and was sire of Straitlace, winner of the Oaks in 1924. Bailey himself won the Oaks in 1936 with Lovely Rosa and was second in the Derby of 1935 with Robin Goodfellow. He also carried on large farming operations in the Colesberg district of the Cape.
Bailey began his public service in the Johannesburg Staatsraad before the Jameson Raid of 1895. He was a member of the reform committee and was sentenced, for the raid, to two years' imprisonment, afterwards commuted to a fine of £2,000. In the South African war he served in the Intelligence Division and helped to raise and equip Gorringe's Horse and the City Imperial Volunteers. In 1902, after the war, he entered the Cape House of Assembly as progressive representative of Barkly West, Cecil Rhodes's old constituency. This seat he resigned in 1905 and, after the grant of responsible government to the Transvaal in 1906, he was elected in 1907 to the legislative assembly at Pretoria as member for Krugersdorp, holding the seat until 1910 and becoming whip of the opposition to the administration of General Louis Botha [qv.]. He was an active worker for South African union, helping to finance the State, the organ of the Closer Union Society which was founded to popularize the cause.
In 1915 Bailey re-entered politics as member for his old constituency, Krugersdorp, taking his seat in the Union House of Assembly as an independent, but sitting with General Botha's South African party. He retained the seat until his defeat at the general election of 1924. Party politics and debate were not the sources of his influence. That lay rather in the boundless hospitality which he dispensed at Rust-en-Vrede at Muizenberg, near Cape Town, and at his London residence, 38 Bryanston Square. His dispassionate personality, his skill and tact as host, made his houses centres where men of all shades of opinion and experience intermixed and exchanged views. At times they acted as neutral territories for the settlement of political difficulties. The critical meeting of 3 December 1916 which led to the supersession in the premiership of Asquith by Lloyd George was held at 38 Bryanston Square. In March 1933 General Smuts and General James Barry Munnik Hertzog met at Rust-en-Vrede to form a national government for the Union of South Africa, although Bailey personally took no part in these deliberations.
Bailey was appointed K.C.M.G. in 1911 for his services in promoting South African union, and created a baronet in 1919. He died at Rust-en-Vrede 10 August 1940, after having suffered the amputation of both legs, the first in July 1937 and the second in April 1938. In his will he left a quarter of his estate to an Abe Bailey Trust to be applied by the trustees for the advancement and strengthening of the South African people, and his pictures at Bryanston Square in trust for them also. He bequeathed £100,000 or £5,000 a year to the Royal Institute of International Affairs, for research.
Bailey was twice married: first, in 1894 to Caroline Mary (died 1902), elder daughter of John Paddon, a Kimberley merchant; secondly, in 1911 to Mary, only daughter of Derrick Warner William Westenra, fifth Lord Rossmore. By his first wife he had a son, John Milner (born 1900), who succeeded him as second baronet, and one daughter; by his second wife he had two sons and three daughters.
There is a portrait of Bailey, by Oswald Birley, at the Royal Institute of International Affairs. A cartoon of him, by Spy, appeared in Vanity Fair 9 September 1908.
The Times, 12 August 1940
African World Annual, 1941
Contributor: H. A. Wyndham.